'Sr.' evaluation: Compelling have a look on the lifetime of Robert Downey

Like father, like son? It’s a question that’s answered in affecting, if not always completely probing methods inside the in any other case compelling documentary “Sr.,” a vigorous have a look at cult filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. and his exponentially extra well-known, deeply devoted son: “Iron Man,” “Avengers” and “Sherlock Holmes” star, Robert Downey Jr.

Downey Sr. (born Robert Elias and referred to right here merely as “Sr.”) might have been little greater than a blip on the cinematic radar these earlier couple of many years. however inside the late Nineteen Sixties, he turned a counterculture icon after making such absurdist underground movement pictures as “Chafed Elbows,” “No extra Excuses” and his most notable and influential hit, the anarchic advert-agency satire “Putney Swope.” His effectively-timed work was a barbed, unapologetic mirror of that period’s political and social turbulence.

sadly, adjust to-up movies similar to 1970’s people-having fun with-animals comedy “Pound” and 1972’s acid western-Christ parable, “Greaser’s Palace,” did little to burnish his fame. He went on to have a kind of herky-jerky helming profession till exiting the film scene in 2005 with the Philadelphia-set documentary, “Rittenhouse sq..”

however it’s Downey Sr. the unconventional household man, as a lot as a outcome of the subversive filmmaker, who will get his shut-up right here, as father and son share time on digital camera (in particular person and through COVID-necessitated Zoom and cellphone calls) from 2019 till Sr.’s demise in mid-2021 of issues from Parkinson’s illness. They chat about life and their many shared experiences, collectively with Downey Jr.’s formative gigs as a toddler actor in “Pound” and “Greaser’s” and their later collaborations on Downey Sr.’s obscure comedies “an extreme quantity of photo voltaic” (1990) and “Hugo Pool” (1997). (1987’s porn-enterprise satire, “Rented Lips,” goes unmentioned, maybe for good purpose.)

What most notoriously binds Sr. and son, however, was an prolonged and self-dangerous behavior to medicine: Downey Sr.’s started inside the mid-‘70s; Jr.’s a lot extra effectively-documented behavior landed him a jail stretch a quantity of many years later. The doc touches upon, reasonably than dissects, the idea Jr.’s behavior might have been inadvertently fostered by his permissive dad, a seemingly pivotal piece of their symbiotic dynamic.

as effectively as, the place precisely was Downey Sr. — to not level out Downey Jr.’s actress-mom and Downey Sr.’s first spouse, Elsie (they divorced in 1982) — all by Downey Jr.’s darkest days? solely a little bit of referencing would possibly want helped spherical out some patchy household historic previous. (Downey Sr. and Elsie’s second youngster, Allyson, is simply fleetingly talked about and proven.)

however that is largely a buoyant and affectionate portrait, one which enjoyably showcases Downey Sr.’s candy irascibility (and plain allure), Jr.’s offhand jauntiness and the puckish duo’s mutual love of film, household and irreverence. that is its power and, it seems, raison d’être, even when the film, directed by Chris Smith (“American film,” “Fyre”), with what’s liable to be acknowledged as an unofficial assist from Downey Sr., feels largely made up as they went alongside — and a product of some skillfully managed modifying. (Clearly nonetheless a director in his bones, the elder Downey additionally labored on a kind of shadow mannequin of a bio-doc, bits of that are seen right here.)

Shot in prolonged island, L.A. and East Hampton in atmospheric black-and-white (effectively recalling the vibe of Sr.’s early output), the film options an array of clips from most of Downey Sr.’s movies, collectively with 1975’s alliteratively titled — and narratively incomprehensible — “Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight” and the iconoclast’s one sick-fated (and admittedly horrible) foray into studio directing, the 1980 navy-school farce, “Up the Academy.”

Snippets of Sr.’s appearing stints in a quantity of of his early works as effectively as to a job in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights,” are additionally woven in, as are interviews with pals collectively with Anderson (who gives private archival footage), Alan Arkin, Norman Lear and Lawrence Wolf, the latter a frequent performer in Downey Sr.’s ’60s and ’70s movies.

extra archival clips of Elsie Downey (a sport mainstay in lots of Downey Sr.’s movies; she died in 2014) and Sr.’s second spouse, actress-author Laura Ernst, who died in 1994 at age 36 of ALS, are featured as effectively. We additionally meet Sr.’s third spouse, Rosemary; Downey Jr.’s second spouse and enterprise companion, Susan (a producer right here with Downey Jr.); and Jr. and Susan’s youthful kids, son Exton and, extra briefly, daughter Avri.

the good-natured Exton performs a key half in the direction of the extreme of the doc when he and his dad go to prolonged island to spend some final time with the dying Downey Sr. These concluding moments amongst three generations of Downey males are stunning and memorable.

“Sr.” proves a youthful portrait and becoming tribute to an offbeat hero and inventive pioneer.


Rated: R, for language and a few drug use

working time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

having fun with: begins Nov. 23, Laemmle Monica film coronary heart, Santa Monica; out there Dec. 2 on Netflix


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